Hippo Sweat to Be Turned into Sunscreen

The animals never get sunburned

By on March 17th, 2009 09:03 GMT

Turning to nature for inspiration is the key to constructing a lot of things, from very tall buildings, shaped after bamboo, to, apparently, sunscreen, which now researchers believe can be successfully made from hippo sweat. While this may disgust some, it could, indeed, prove to be the best protection anyone could hope for. The bulky animals seldom stay in the shadow, and spend most of their day submerged in water or in mud, but with their backs exposed to the Sun.

If their skin had been as soft as ours and without any secretions, then their backs would have looked like burgers within a matter of hours. Yet, they have managed to spend not one day, but many years with the same life style, an accomplishment that has made researchers wonder as to how the animal does it. The answer has been found in a reddish glandular secretion, which seems to contain a compound capable of scattering light in all directions, thus keeping the hefty animal's skin absolutely intact.

Christopher Viney, University of California in Merced (UCM) School of Engineering professor and the co-author of a new study detailing the interesting find, told Discovery News that the sweat of the hippopotamus could also be “scavenged” for other useful compounds as well. “It would be nice to also try and replicate the antiseptic and insect-repellent characteristics of the sweat, to obtain a four-in-one product: sunscreen, sunblock, antiseptic, [and] insect repellent. Just so long as the stuff doesn't smell like hippo,” he added.

After analyzing the hippo sweat under a microscope, the researcher found that there were two types of crystaline structures in it – banded and non-banded. He pinpointed that the banded ones were “characterized by concentric dark rings,” which seemed to be the key to the liquid's amazing properties. “The rings are the result of a structural periodicity that occurs on a scale comparable to the wavelengths of visible light. This means that the sweat is an effective scatterer of light, so that it combines both sun-blocking and sun-screening properties,” Viney stated.

This find only goes to show again the true extent of nature's power, as well as the perfection of evolution, which has endowed this animal with the unique abilities it needs in order to survive in its relatively-sedentary and Sun-exposed life style, over millions of years.

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